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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

SCOTUS Digs Philip Morris

Thanks to Adam Richardson, one of my RA's and fave students, I just got word that the Supreme Court dismissed cert on the Philip Morris punitive damages case as improvidently granted. It was a one line per curiam statement, available here. Lyle Denniston of the indispensable SCOTUSBlog has this brief report.   I'd be curious to hear rank speculation about why the case got DIG'd in the comments. In the meantime, here's a snippet of Lyle's work, and some links to my own recent and forthcoming work in the area of punitive damages. 

Mrs. Williams’ lawyers told the Court this time: “Twelve years after the tragic death that gave rise to this action and nine years after the lengthy trial of this case, with four appellate reviews in Oregon, and five years after the first of three trips to this Court, it is time for this litigation marathon to end.”  The marathon, however, may not be over yet.  Philip Morris, at an earlier stage in the case, reserved the right to challenge a state law that requires that 60 percent of a punitive verdict goes to the state of Oregon. The company’s argument against that is that Oregon has achieved all of the proceeds it is entitled to have under the global settlement of a group of states’ lawsuit against the industry. Mrs. Williams’ lawyers, backed by the Oregon attorney general, have argued that the tobacco settlement only applied to that specific case, and thus would have no effect on the verdict in her case.   Philip Morris must take an affirmative new step to revive this issue, according to lawyers involved. The verdict stood at nearly $143 million a year ago when Philip Morris filed its latest petition in the Supreme Court.  Under Oregon law, the interest rises at 9 percent a year, indicating that the award is now worth something around $156 million.  Mrs. Williams’ 40 percent share would thus appear to be somewhere above $60 million.  (The compensatory award of $521,485.50 has not yet been paid, because Philip Morris’ various appeals sought a new trial on the entire verdict.)

Posted by Administrators on March 31, 2009 at 12:40 PM in Article Spotlight, Constitutional thoughts, Dan Markel, Retributive Damages | Permalink


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The stuff on remand always struck me as fishy, but only on state-law grounds. Here's some rank speculation: the justices who thought there might be a legitimate federal ground for reversing probably tried for a few months to make it work, but decided it couldn't work out, and explaining why wasn't worth the trouble.

Posted by: Chris | Mar 31, 2009 5:53:16 PM

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